Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Sunday that Russia likely won’t give up its hold on Crimea.
“I think the Russians see this as taking back territory that belonged to them,” the former top official for the Pentagon said during an appearance on Fox News, adding: “I do not believe that Crimea will slip out of Russia’s hands.”
Asked by host Chris Wallace if he believes Crimea is “gone,” Gates said that he did.
The United States is hoping to pressure Russia into a diplomatic resolution by trying to isolate it from international organizations, including the G-8, and with potential sanctions, with Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions aren’t how global powers behave in the 21st century.
But Gates noted that it isn’t whether or not the incursion is “aggressive” or “illegitimate,” but said “the question is can anyone do anything about it.”
The pro-Russia government in Crimea is holding a referendum later this month on whether the region should join Russia. It’s a move that Putin has backed and U.S. and Ukranian officials have called illegitimate, noting that any change to the country’s borders must take place in consultation with the official government in Kiev.
And in addition to foreign policy pressures, President Obama is also facing increasing criticism back home. Congressional Republicans fault what they view as a weak foreign policy by the president for Putin’s incursion into Ukraine. But Gates largely brushed aside such criticism.
“I think even if we had launched attacks in Syria, even if we weren’t cutting our defense budget, I think Putin saw an opportunity here,” he said.